Articles

The 2022 World Cup: Forced Labor of Migrant Workers

“We have worked hard and just want what is due to us and to go home. We are stuck now in cramped accommodation, with poor food and no clean drinking water. We are treated like animals.”1

By: SARAH HAMILL

This Nepalese construction worker in Qatar is not alone in his story. So many others like him have been recruited to Qatar for low-skilled jobs building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup. They were promised a job with good pay to support their families. Upon arriving in Qatar, however, employers confiscated their passports and changed their contracts. Their living and working conditions were appalling. They had no option but to continue working for their employer and endure abusive treatment, as they could not return home without their travel documents. This treatment of migrant workers in Qatar occurred long before Qatar began preparing to host the 2022 World Cup,2 but winning the bid in 2010 brought this abuse into the spotlight and created a call to action on behalf of the migrant workers undergoing forced labor.3

Forced Labor—A Promise of Work Turns into Profits Generated from Slave Labor

The Palermo Protocol defines trafficking in persons “as the recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of coercion, abduction, deception or abuse of power or of vulnerability, for the purpose of exploitation.”4 This definition includes both sexual exploitation and forced labor.5 Common indications of trafficking include coercive or deceptive recruitment, abusive or dangerous working and living conditions, and employers who restrict freedom of movement, confiscate identity documents, withhold wages, and force overtime.6

The International Labor Organization (ILO) has estimated that victims of forced labor generate approximately $51 billion in annual profits worldwide.7 Of that $51 billion, about $34 billion is generated from the construction, manufacturing, mining, and utility sectors.8 In the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, the United States Department of State reported that at least 98 countries have forced labor in their construction industries.9 Furthermore, the ILO has noted that construction sites are some of the most hazardous environments for workers.10 And while the construction industry has promised an enticing avenue for employment for many migrant workers,11 the industry can be extremely dangerous when not properly regulated.

Major sporting events have seriously contributed to the exploitation of construction workers across the globe. The World Cup, the Olympics, and other sporting events require immense infrastructure, which may facilitate forced labor. Stadiums, hotels, roads, and more must be built in order to host these events. With the 2022 World Cup set to take place in Qatar, terrible human rights abuses have come to light, especially the use of slaves to build stadiums.

Qatar: an Oasis in the Desert, but a Graveyard for Migrant Workers

In Qatar, migrant workers make up more than 90 percent of the workforce, 40 percent of which are from Nepal.12 Many migrant workers have been recruited to help build the stadiums, roads, ports, and hotels for the 2022 World Cup.13 Many of these workers have reported that their identification documents have been confiscated and they have not been paid for months, preventing the workers from being able to return home or get out of the terrible working conditions.14 On the worksite, employers have denied workers access to free drinking water, and the living and working conditions are “repulsive.”15

In Qatar, migrant workers are subject to the kafala sponsorship system.16 This system binds workers to a single sponsor who must also be their employer.17 Workers are not allowed to change jobs without the permission of their sponsors, which is extremely difficult because the sponsors have no incentive to allow the workers to work for someone else.18 Under this system, the sponsors control much of the workers’ lives including where they can work, when they can leave the country, where they can live, and the working conditions to which they will be exposed.19 In 2014, the United Nations called on Qatar to abolish this system.20 The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is trying to negotiate an agreement with Qatar to end the kafala system, but the progress in this regard is unclear.21 Furthermore, the ITUC has expressed concern that Qatar’s labor laws are not helping ensure safety for migrant workers.22

As of 2015, an estimated 500,000 more workers were expected to be recruited to build the 2022 World Cup facilities.23 Unfortunately, for many migrant workers in Qatar, their labor has proved fatal.24 In 2013, an average of 20 Indian migrants died each month.25 By 2014—just four years after Qatar won the World Cup bid—at least 1,200 Nepalese and Indian workers had already died due to the working and living conditions.26 In 2015, the ITUC estimated that another 7,000 deaths were likely to occur before the 2022 World Cup.27

The root cause of these deaths is the squalid living and working conditions.28 Whether a work accident, a heart attack caused by heat stress, or diseases caused by the living conditions,29 employers could prevent these deaths by changing the workers’ situations.

FIFA’s Response

With the increased number of workers specifically in Qatar for the World Cup, FIFA also has a responsibility to ensure the labor conditions meet both Qatari and international standards. In 2011, the secretary-general of FIFA stated, “FIFA upholds the respect for human rights and the application of international norms of behavior as a principle and part of all our activities.”30 However, FIFA has tried to distance itself from the forced labor Qatar is using to build the World Cup infrastructure. In 2017, FIFA released a statement which highlighted that most of the construction being done in Qatar is not specifically for the World Cup.31 In the same 2017 statement, FIFA noted it was working closely with Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy to help oversee the construction for the World Cup.32

Despite these claims, it does not appear that FIFA has done much to combat the forced labor being used to build the World Cup’s infrastructure.33 The ITUC has noted that the Supreme Committee’s Workers’ Welfare standards fall below what they should be and are nevertheless not enforced.34 Accordingly, FIFA, Qatar, and companies like the national football associations will continue to gain immense profits at the expense of the migrant workers who are treated like slaves.


  • 1 The Case Against Qatar, ITUC Special Report 1, 13 (2014), https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/the_case_against_qatar_en_web170314.pdf.
  • 2 The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game: Exploitation of Migrant Workers on a Qatar 2022 World Cup Site, Amnesty International 1, 13–14 (2016), https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/MDE2235482016ENGLISH.PDF.
  • 3 Id.
  • 4 United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (2018), https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/protocoltraffickinginpersons.aspx. Countries signed up for this Protocol have declared that in order to effectively combat human trafficking, a comprehensive international approach is required. Id.
  • 5 Id.; see also Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, International Labor Office 1, 4 (2014), https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—declaration/documents/publication/wcms_243391.pdf.
  • 6 Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking in Persons in Federal and Corporate Supply Chains, Verité 1, 5 (2017), https://www.verite.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/EO-and-Commodity-Reports-Combined-FINAL-2017.pdf [hereinafter “Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking”].
  • 7 Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour, supra note 3 at 15.
  • 8 Id.
  • 9 Trafficking in Persons Report, U.S. Department of State 1, 64–468 (2018), https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/282798.pdf; see also Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking, supra note 6 at 40. In the 2018 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the U.S. Department of State specifically mentioned that forced labor has been used in the construction industries of the following countries: Afghanistan, Angola, Aruba, Australia, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bhutan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Curacao, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, Germany, Haiti, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyzstan), Laos, Libya, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Palau, Panama, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, St Maarten, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Togo, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia. The 2018 TIP report also mentioned that the construction industries in Azerbaijan, Macau, Qatar, and Zimbabwe likely use forced labor.
  • 10 Construction: a hazardous work, International Labor Organization (Mar. 23, 2015), https://www.ilo.org/safework/areasofwork/hazardous-work/WCMS_356576/lang–en/index.htm.
  • 11 Jean-Baptiste Andrieu et al., Addressing Workers’ Rights in the Engineering and Construction Sector—Opportunities for Collaboration 4 (The Business of a Better World, Working Paper, 2016), https://www.bsr.org/reports/BSR_Addressing_Workers_Rights_Engineering_Construction_Sectors.pdf.
  • 12 Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking, supra note 6 at 42.
  • 13 Id.
  • 14 Id.; see also The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game: Exploitation of Migrant Workers on a Qatar 2022 World Cup Site, supra note 2 at 5.
  • 15 Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking, supra note 6 at 42; see also The Dark Side of Migration—Spotlight on Qatar’s Construction Sector Ahead of the World Cup, Amnesty International (2013), https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/16000/mde220102013en.pdf [hereinafter “The Dark Side of Migration”]; The Case Against Qatar, supra note 1.
  • 16 Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking, supra note 6 at 42.
  • 17 The Dark Side of Migration, supra note 15 at 93.
  • 18 Id.
  • 19 Id.
  • 20 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, François Crépeau, A/HRC/26/35/Add.1, (April 24, 2014), pgs 1, 7­–8.
  • 21 David Conn, Qatar World Cup workers’ rights to improve with end of kafala system, claims union, The Guardian (Oct. 25, 2017, 3:04 PM), https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/oct/25/qatar-world-cup-workers-rights-kafala-system.
  • 22 The Case Against Qatar, supra note 1 at 18–19.
  • 23 Qatar: Profit and Loss Counting the cost of modern-day slavery in Qatar: What price is freedom?, International Trade Union Confederation 1, 22–23 (2015), https://www.ituc-csi.org/IMG/pdf/qatar_en_web.pdf. One source stated that as of 2017, an estimated 1.5 million more workers were expected to be recruited. Strengthening Protections Against Trafficking, supra note 6 at 42.
  • 24 The Case Against Qatar, supra note 1 at 14.
  • 25 Id.
  • 26 Id at 15. These deaths were not necessarily a result of working on the World Cup infrastructure, but are used to highlight the poor labor conditions in Qatar in general. The number of worker deaths leading up to the World Cup in Qatar is much higher than the number of workers’ deaths leading up to many of the previous World Cups and major sporting events because of the long-established system of labor exploitation present in Qatar. Id. For example, five workers were killed leading up to the 2018 Russia World Cup; seven before the 2014 Brazil World Cup; 60 before the 2014 Sochi Olympics; two before the 2010 South Africa World Cup; 10 before the 2010 Beijing Olympics; and 40 before the 2004 Athens Olympics. Id.
  • 27 Qatar: Profit and Loss Counting the cost of modern-day slavery in Qatar: What price is freedom?, supra note 23 at 25.
  • 28 Id.
  • 29 Id.
  • 30 Statement from Jérôme Valcke on labor rights in Qatar, 2022 FIFAWorld Cup (Nov. 17, 2011), https://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/statement-from-jeromevalcke-labour-rights-qatar-1544426; see also Building a Better World Cup—Protecting Migrant Workers in Qatar Ahead of FIFA 2022, Human Rights Watch (June 12, 2012), https://www.hrw.org/report/2012/06/12/building-better-world-cup/protecting-migrant-workers-qatar-ahead-fifa-2022.
  • 31 FIFA statement on Human Rights Watch report of 27 September 2017, FIFA 1, 1 (2017), https://www.business-humanrights.org/sites/default/files/documents/FIFA-Response-to-HRW-heat-report-27-Sept-2017.pdf.
  • 32 Id.
  • 33 See The Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game: Exploitation of Migrant Workers on a Qatar 2022 World Cup Site, supra note 2 at 8.
  • 34 The Case Against Qatar, supra note 1 at 18.

About the author

Sarah Hamill

Sarah Hamill

Sarah is a third-year law student at Pepperdine University School of Law. She grew up in San Diego, CA where she attended Point Loma Nazarene University, majoring in International Development Studies and minoring in Psychology. After graduating from Point Loma, Sarah spent the summer in Rwanda working for World Relief’s economic development program, specifically with savings groups around the country. During law school, Sarah participated in Pepperdine’s Global Justice Program in Uganda, serving as an extern for a justice on the Ugandan Court of Appeals and partnering with the Ugandan Judiciary to implement plea bargaining for prisoners in Western and Eastern Uganda. Sarah also helped coordinate an Anti-Trafficking in Persons Conference in Uganda in 2017. Following her second year of law school, Sarah worked at the California Attorney General’s Office in the Criminal Appeals Division. After graduation, she hopes to obtain a federal clerkship and later argue human trafficking cases at the appellate level.